The function of a county road is simple: transport people and goods. So why are road issues so powerful that they can make or break the election of a county commissioner?
Because roads are connectors. People to places. Parents to work. Children to school. Ambulances to the injured. Goods to the grocers. Products to the patrons.
And, figuratively speaking, county roads often connect a commissioner to a constituent. For example, in many counties, the county commissioner wears the hat of a road commissioner. So when a constituent has a road problem, he dials the county office.
In other counties, road responsibilities are delegated to another individual, such as a road administrator or engineer. But in those scenarios, voters often hold their commissioners directly responsible.
Even the definition of a county road isn’t all that simple. We asked the experts to define the 145,554 centerline miles of county roads that stretch across the Lone Star State and explain the authority of the commissioners court.
A county road is a public road that has been accepted for maintenance by the commissioners court pursuant to the standards set by the court, said Fort Bend County Road Commissioner Marc Grant. These roads are located in the unincorporated areas of the county.
There are many roads within the county that are not county-maintained roads, Grant said, including:
private roads constructed in private subdivisions, maintained by the private residents/homeowners association;
interstate highways, U.S. highways, state highways, farm-to-market roads, spurs and park roads maintained by TxDOT;
roads within an established subdivision that have not been accepted for maintenance, therefore are still the responsibility of the developer; and
roads within the incorporated limits of cities, villages, towns or other entities, maintained by those entities.
With regard to the authority of the commissioners court, Bob Bass, attorney with Allison, Bass & Associates, LLP, cited the Transportation Code and the Local Government Code.
According to Chapter 251 of the Transportation Code, the court is to “make and enforce all reasonable and necessary rules and orders for the construction and maintenance of public roads except as prohibited by law.”
Section 81.028 of the Local Government Code allows the court members to “lay out and establish, change and discontinue public roads and highways and to exercise general control over all roads, highways, ferries and bridges in their counties.”
Road statutes and legal opinions offer additional guidelines delineating authority and limitations:
An individual commissioner has no authority to establish a county road.
Roads should be classified as 1st, 2nd or 3rd class roads.
The court may establish or change the status of a county road.
The county cannot maintain a private road.
County labor, materials and equipment cannot be used on private property.
It is vital to have clear authority for maintenance on all roads in the county inventory.
Working the Systems
Chapters 251 and 252 of the Texas Transportation Code discuss general county authority relating to roads and bridges and systems of county road administration, respectively. The first two road management options are known as “precinct systems,” whereby county commissioners oversee the roads in their individual precincts.
Road Supervisor System – Chapter 251.004
The county commissioners are the supervisors of the public roads in a county unless the county adopts an optional system of administering the county roads under Chapter 252.
The statute requires a county commissioner serving as a road supervisor to supervise the public roads in the commissioner’s precinct at least once each month and make a report during the ninth month of the county’s fiscal year showing:
the condition of each road or part of a road and of each culvert and bridge in the commissioner’s precinct;
the amount of money reasonably necessary for maintenance of the roads in the precinct during the next county fiscal year;
the number of traffic control devices in the precinct defaced or torn down;
any new road that should be opened in the precinct; and
any bridges, culverts, or other improvements necessary to place the roads in the precinct in good condition, and the probable cost of the improvements.
Ex Officio Road Commissioner System